“That’s great, thank you, Miss.” She smiled as she handed my passport back to me. “Now, can I just see your onward ticket?”
My heart sunk.
“Oh! Yes! My onward ticket… um… it’s actually, uh it’s, it’s actually on my laptop”, I lied, “and my, um, my laptop is out of battery. I, uh, I’m flying to Bangkok, though! In three weeks. I’ll be in The Philippines for three weeks.” I forced a nervous smile in the hope that she’d believe me.
“I’m sorry, Miss. You need to have an onward ticket to board this flight. We can’t let you on the plane unless you can show me proof of your onward travel plans.”
“But, my laptop? I can’t turn it on. What if I can’t find somewhere to charge it?”
“I’m sorry, Miss. We won’t be able to let you on the plane. You need to find a way to charge your laptop.”
“You have 30 minutes,” she interrupted. “Good luck, Miss.”
With a lump in my throat, I jogged past 20 rows of check-in desks, eyes darting around the room, no idea what I was even looking for.
How could you be so stupid, Lauren? Why didn’t you buy a ticket? Oh my god, what am I going to do? What do I do? How do I get an onward ticket? What the hell am I going to do?
It was 2am and I was low on energy. An action-packed day spent meeting up with old college friends had rendered my introverted brain exhausted and unable to function. Though I’d been travelling continuously for the past four months, I still hadn’t learned that the airline desks in the departure hall of airports sold flight tickets – though I doubt there’d have been any open at this time. After four months of travel, I still didn’t have enough common sense or life experience to come up with a logical way of buying an onward ticket – not without a power socket and Wi-Fi.
I’ve visited almost a hundred countries on my travels so far – over half of which had stated you needed proof of onward travel as an entry requirement – and I’d never been asked for an onward ticket. I’d just assumed through experience that it was a rule that was rarely ever enforced – that as long as I kept quiet, was polite and looked innocent I’d never be asked. I assumed The Philippines would be the same as every other country I’d visited so far.
I quickly formulated a plan. I needed to charge my laptop, get online and buy a ticket to anywhere – it didn’t matter where – before the check-in desk closed. I needed to get on that flight.
I sprinted to the nearest help desk, panting out my question; my joy replaced by horror as I learned there wasn’t any free Wi-Fi in the airport.
WhatamIgonnado? WhatamIgonnado? Oh god, WHAT AM I GOING TO DO?
I had 20 minutes left.
I raced up and down the hall, feet squeaking, heart pounding, back aching from the weight of my backpack. I scanned behind and beneath every chair as I hunted down somewhere – anywhere — to charge my laptop.
I was on the verge of a breakdown when I discovered a power socket hidden away in a dusty, hair-ridden corner of the terminal. Giving myself a secret celebratory high five, I knelt to the ground and waited for my laptop to turn on.
“Comeoncomeoncomeon!” I willed my laptop, cursing the twenty-odd programs I’d left running that now had to re-open before I could do anything.
I opened the list of Wi-Fi networks, nauseated when I saw every single one was password protected and the name of an airline. Where was a Starbucks or a McDonald’s when I needed one?
I had 9% battery life now, surely enough to last me the 12 minutes I had before check-in closed. I unplugged the charger, pulled on my damp-with-sweat backpack – the ice-cold air conditioning having done nothing to keep me cool – and started towards the far end of the departure hall.
I refreshed the list of networks every few seconds, desperate for a name to appear without a padlock next to it.
And there it was.
Yes! There it was! An unsecure network! There was one!
“Connect! Please! Please connect. Please connect. Please connect”, I whispered as I urged the connection icon to change to a checkmark.
“Yes!” I whispered to myself and wondered whether I should give myself a high five.
I was connected. I was online. I sat on the floor; backpack on, planning my route back to the check-in desks. I could make it. Maybe I could just about make the flight.
I loaded the Air Asia website. Manila to Bangkok, three weeks from now. By this point I’d be happy to pay $500 for the flights. Fortunately, they were only $50. Great. Confirm.
As the loading icon spun around and around, I opened my email and willed the confirmation email to appear.
Aha! There it was!
I scrambled to my feet – not an easy task when wearing a backpack and a daypack – and took off in the direction of the check-in desk.
Please be open. Please.
“You’re lucky, Miss. We are closing in two minutes, you got here just in time”
I grimaced as I fought to catch my breath, handing her my laptop with the email confirmation on the screen.
“Manila to Bangkok, yes?”
“That’s the one.”
“This says you bought the ticket just two minutes ago?”
I froze. “Yeah. I, um, I couldn’t find my original ticket confirmation anywhere and had to buy a new one. I have no idea where the first one went…”
I felt her eyes on me as I stared at my feet. I didn’t know whether looking up would cause me to laugh, cry or vomit all over the desk.
“Here’s your ticket, Miss Lauren. Have a safe flight.”
I passed through security in a daze, too exhausted to decide how I was feeling. I met back up with the Israeli guys I’d been chatting to before my action-packed race around the airport.
“Whoa, Lauren! You’re here! We thought there was no chance you’d be getting on the plane tonight. Why didn’t you buy an onward ticket?! Didn’t you know you needed one for The Philippines?”
“Yeah, I did… I just kind of assumed I wouldn’t be asked for one. I didn’t know when I was going to leave The Philippines… and I was hoping to extend my visa while I’m there… I didn’t want to buy a flight I might not use.”
“At least I know now,” I continued. “I guess I’ll just buy the cheapest ticket out of a country from now on as proof or something.”
“Either that or don’t arrive at an airport with 30 minutes to spare!”
“Yeah.” I grinned. “That, too.”
Do You Always Need an Onward Ticket?
Nope! Definitely not.
I travel full-time for a living and after ten years of continuous travel to 100-odd countries, I’ve only been asked for an onward ticket three times, in Hong Kong flying to the Philippines, from New Zealand flying to Thailand, and French Polynesia flying to Fiji. I have taken 400 flights over that time.
So if you’ve read this post and you’re currently panicking, it’s okay. Odds are, you won’t be asked for a ticket at the airport.
If you are, it’s also okay, because if you arrive at the airport with plenty of time, you can do as I did. If somebody at the check-in desk asks for your onward ticket, tell them it’s on your phone but your phone is out of battery. Tell them you’re going to go charge it up and will come back with a ticket. Buy a new ticket to the cheapest place available, then join the queue for a different check-in desk, with your onward ticket in hand.
Alternatively, there are new companies that have been set up with nervous travellers in mind. Take OnwardTicket.com, which I’ve now started using regularly. You’ll pay just $12 to them and in exchange, they’ll send you a valid flight confirmation within 2 minutes that’s valid for 48 hours. Buy it the night before your flight, show the check-in staff your ticket when you check-in, and board the plane for no issues at all.
At a cost of $12, it’s definitely worth it for peace of mind.
Have you ever been asked for an onward ticket?